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Prior belief and polarity in multicue learning

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We report two experiments in which participants are trained using a multicue probability learning (MCPL) task, which attempts to simulate the acquisition of expert judgement by experience in the real world. Participants were asked to predict performance in certain occupations given a profile of personality test results with trial-by-trial outcome feedback. Only some cues were relevant, and the polarity of the cues (positive or negative predictors) was unspecified. In addition, 25% of random noise was added to the feedback to simulate real world uncertainty. The main factor of interest was that the role of prior belief (determined in a separate study of stereotypes) interfered with the learning process. Experiment 1 failed to find any influence of prior belief in the cues that were irrelevant to the criterion being trained. However, in Experiment 2 people learned to use the relevant cues better when their effect conformed with rather than conflicted with prior belief. Both experiments showed strong effects of cue polarity, with positive predictors much more easily learned. The results are discussed with reference to the cognitive processes involved in MCPL and closely related tasks.

Document Type: Research Article


Affiliations: University of Plymouth, Plymouth, UK

Publication date: May 1, 2005


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